The successful completion of major infrastructure construction projects often depends on the amount of time required for federal agencies to process environmental reviews and make authorization decisions. This is particularly true where multiple federal agencies are involved in the process and the decisions or timeliness of one can influence the decisions or timeliness of another. While numerous administrations have attempted to address multi-agency federal permitting processes in an effort to gain efficiencies, the Trump administration has taken significant steps to ensure that federal agencies work together in ways that will reduce the amount of time required to complete all environmental reviews and issue all required authorizations. Continue Reading PHMSA and FERC Commit to Permitting Process MOU

While still early in the new administration, emerging enforcement trends are beginning to indicate that EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) will continue to pursue cases involving fraud in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. We noted last summer that EPA and DOJ have pursued numerous enforcement actions against renewable fuel producers and importers that generated invalid Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs), which are the “currency” of the RFS program. Although it is reasonable to assume the vast majority of program participants comply with EPA’s regulations, the program has suffered from high profile cases of fraud and abuse requiring federal enforcement, including criminal prosecutions. Recent cases and statements by DOJ and EPA officials show that federal prosecution of RFS fraud, particularly that involving multi-state schemes, will continue. And RFS fraud cases may even occupy a larger portion of EPA’s enforcement bandwidth as EPA gives greater deference to states in enforcement of delegated programs like the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Continue Reading Enforcement Trends: Federal Enforcement of Renewable Fuel Standards Marketplace Fraud Continues

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its annual enforcement and compliance results for the most recent fiscal year (FY) on February 8, 2018. The results, which cover the period from October 1, 2016, to September 30, 2017, are the Trump administration’s first annual statistical report on federal environmental enforcement. The results provide insight into the administration’s focus and priorities for enforcement. Continue Reading EPA Announces Fiscal Year 2017 Environmental Enforcement Statistics

A year ago, the regulated community and its environmental lawyers recognized that the Trump administration would bring a new approach to the enforcement of federal environmental laws, but the nature of the specific changes remained nebulous. While it is still early to speculate on the long-term impacts to enforcement that may be implemented by the administration, events over the prior year have brought the new administration’s enforcement philosophy and priorities into greater focus. This post reviews some of the key personnel, policy, and budget announcements made during President Trump’s first year in office that will shape the future of federal environmental enforcement by the Environmental Protection Agency in the coming years.

Continue Reading Recapping the Year in Environmental Enforcement

We are serious.  And don’t call us Shirley.

So EPA sent your company a dreaded Request for Information (“RFI”).  What do you do now?  If you’ve never been through this process before, you likely have a lot running through your head:

  • Did our company do something wrong?  Is my company under investigation?
  • Is this EPA’s way of asking for my help to improve its regulations?
  • Do I have to answer this?
  • How can I possibly compile all this information in 30 days?
  • Do we need a lawyer to help us respond?
  • What about confidential information?  EPA is asking for customer or supplier information.  Isn’t that private?

Continue Reading An RFI? Surely You Can’t Be Serious.

On Thursday, the Senate confirmed Susan Parker Bodine as the Assistant Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (“OECA”).  OECA, the chief enforcement arm of EPA, coordinates the agency’s enforcement of numerous federal environmental laws within its authority.

This is the second leadership role at EPA for Bodine, who brings significant experience in environmental law to the position.  She formerly served as Assistant Administrator for the agency’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response—now called the Office of Land and Emergency Management—under President George W. Bush.  Before returning to the EPA, Bodine served as Chief Counsel for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, from 2015 until this August.  She also served as Counsel to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and was engaged in private legal practice.

Continue Reading Senate Confirms Susan Parker Bodine as New Head of EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance Office

Increased use of renewable fuels is a core element of our country’s quest for energy independence and has also been used to incentivize private efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Now more than ten years old, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program has helped make ethanol made from sugarcane and compressed natural gas produced from sludge at municipal wastewater treatment facilities common household concepts. While the vast majority of renewable fuel producers are compliant, the program has suffered from high-profile cases of fraud and abuse requiring federal enforcement, including criminal prosecutions. Continue Reading Renewable Fuel Standards: Marketplace Fraud Leads to Federal Enforcement

In a closely watched case, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last week dismissed an interstate natural gas pipeline company’s challenge to the State of New York’s delay in issuing a water quality certification under section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) for the Millennium pipeline project. While the company requested a ruling that the state had waived its right to make a decision on water quality certification for the project, the court decided to dismiss the action – holding that even if the state agency’s lengthy delays did constitute a waiver under CWA section 401, there was no cognizable injury to the company that would give it standing to challenge the delays in court. Rather, according to the court, the remedy is for the company to present evidence of waiver directly to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to seek authorization to begin construction of the project. The case is one of several pending across the country that involve a state’s authority to issue, deny, or waive a CWA water quality certification for interstate natural gas pipeline projects.

Continue Reading Water Quality Certification Waiver for Natural Gas Pipeline Projects an Issue for FERC, and Not the Court, to Decide

Despite oil already flowing through the pipeline, federal litigation involving the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) took another turn last week when partial summary judgment was granted to tribes challenging the adequacy of the US Army Corps of Engineers’ review of DAPL under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other statutes. Two tribes, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, filed suit in July 2016 attempting to block construction of the last remaining segment and operation of DAPL. As sometimes is the case, agency approvals came faster than the court’s opinion, and without a stay of proceedings DAPL began operating in early June 2017. Having granted partial summary judgment, the court did not require pipeline operations to cease, instead delaying the question of an appropriate remedy until after further briefing by the parties.

Continue Reading Federal Court Remands Corps Environmental Analysis for Dakota Access Pipeline

A new policy directive issued earlier this week by the Department of Justice (Justice) has raised concern among regulated industry that the availability of Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) in civil settlements could be severely reduced, or even largely eliminated.  If the directive is applied to restrict the availability of SEPs, it would remove a useful, and at times powerful, tool routinely used by the regulated community to negotiate acceptable settlement agreements in civil enforcement actions. It could also eliminate tens of millions of dollars of annual funding of such projects—which typically benefit local communities or address niche environmental issues—currently provided through the use of SEPs in consent decrees.  Because applicable policies preclude Justice from requiring parties to include SEPs in settlements, it is difficult to identify any upside in any potential narrowing or elimination of SEPs as an optional tool to assist in the resolution of civil environmental enforcement actions.

Continue Reading DOJ Directive May Squeeze the Life Out of Supplemental Environmental Projects